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'Clash of the Titans' offers big story, big effects

Baltimore Sun

Anyone who's been to the movies lately knows that "RELEASE THE KRAKEN!" is probably the catchphrase of the season.

As uttered in the trailer for "Clash of the Titans" by a bearded, berobed, Olympic-size Liam Neeson in reference to an 800-foot beast with bad teeth and a worse attitude, it doesn't have the romantic tingle of "You had me at hello." Or the saltiness of "I'll have what she's having." But as movie mantras go, it captures the exclamatory quality of "Clash of the Titans." And of a movie year that has redefined the big-screen spectacle.

Few movies would seem more amenable to a remake in the age of computerized special effects than that camp classic "Clash of the Titans," which, under the direction of Louis Leterrier ( "The Incredible Hulk"), has become a story of men vs. gods - namely, the half-man/half-deity Perseus (Sam Worthington) pitted against the god of the underworld, Hades ( Ralph Fiennes), who is trying to seize power from Zeus (Neeson) and create hell on Earth. While the story is slightly different, the emblematic accessories of the 1981 original - Pegasus the winged horse, Medusa the snake-haired demon, the unruly Kraken - are all back and enhanced.

Leterrier, in fact, started creating his own special effects as an 8-year-old, after he saw the first "Clash" in Paris. "I was putting wings on my ' Star Wars' action figures to make them look like Harpies," he said.

The new "Clash" was not intended as a 3-D movie - it was the success of "Avatar," Leterrier said, and that other 3-D conversion, "Alice in Wonderland," that prompted Warner Bros. to order that "Clash" be retrofitted with an additional dimension. But that's OK, its director said.

"When the company doing the conversion saw my film," he said, "they said, 'This is just what we want - stuff coming at you, stuff going away, big swooping camera moves.' ... We had this enormous cable camera that goes down and back up and follows Pegasus up and down. My directing style was lending itself to 3-D, so it was a perfect movie to do that."

Good thing, because when it comes to would-be theatrical blockbusters, the 3-D juggernaut is on the luge track to Crazytown. So is Hollywood's love affair with international casting. Starring as Perseus in the new version is "Avatar's" Worthington, the Australia-bred star whose trajectory is definitely heading up. ("Before he got cast in 'Terminator 4," said "Avatar" producer Jon Landau, "I think he was living in his car.") Also in the film are the Irish Neeson and the English Fiennes, as well as: the French Alexa Davalos (Andromeda) and the Danish Mads Mikkelsen as Perseus' buddy, Draco.

"You might as well give them different accents," Mikkelsen said, referring to the audiences that will likely flock to "Clash" this Friday. "The funny thing about America is that 80 percent of the people here have an accent. It's a good development."

Good development for him, too, or at least a payday. The hunky Danish star is well-known to foreign filmgoers here: In addition to such big-budget fare as "Casino Royale," he's worked for his compatriot directors Susanne Bier ("After the Wedding"), "An Education's" Lone Scherfig ("Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself") and Danish provocateur Nicolas Winding Refn ("Bleeder," "Pusher" and the coming "Valhalla Rising").

"It is safe to say," Mikkelsen said, "if you do the same thing every day, you get slightly disappointed; when you mix it up every once in a while, it's fantastic. If I only did small drama, I'd grow tired of myself; if I only did epic films, I'd grow tired of myself."

And as far as Leterrier is concerned, putting new faces on the screen can only be good. "I like discovering people on-screen," said the director, who used the well-known Edward Norton in "The Incredible Hulk," but with "Transporter 2" gave the fledgling Jason Statham a boost. "I love Brad Pitt or Will Smith, but I always see Brad Pitt or Will Smith. It becomes their film. I wanted something more of an ensemble cast, not 'Clash of the Egos.' "

The only thing that seems to give Leterrier pause about his "Clash of the Titans" remake is, well, the fact that it's a remake. "As a real movie fan, I want to see originality," he said. "Or as original as you can get. Some movies that have been done before, there are ways of reimagining them. But I hope it doesn't become the norm."

No Sragow Michael Sragow is on assignment. His column does not appear today.

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